Wayne Smith's occasional blog of pilgrimages and journeys

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday, July 29. Equal in God's sight: when power is abused.

Praise to God for rain overnight and a much cooler weather today, although the forecast calls for the return of heat toward the end of the week.

But having spent the entire morning in the Big Top, I am grateful for the relief, especially as we dealt in a joint plenary with spouses on a sensitive issue that leaves many without defenses, the issue of gender violence. Seating in the tent was divided in half, one side for women, one side for men, because the issue is not safe to talk about for everyone. Jenny Te Paa, principal of the theological school at St John’s College, in Aukland, New Zealand, introduced the topic, after which came a play depicting various encounters of women with Jesus in the gospels. Then the Conference Bible study convenor, Gerald West, from the School of Religion and Theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, led a Bible study on 2 Samuel 13:1-22. It's hard to imagine a Bible study with 1400 of one's closest friends, but Dr. West, with the others on the Bible study team, managed to pull it off. Jim Naughton has a fine summary here.

Here is a place where the Lambeth Conference can exert real influence, both in our various cultures and in our Churches. I was very glad that we did the work, and the dynamic across the divide of the room, women's side and men's side, was instructive. At various moments it became obvious, from the level of applause and other noise, that there was a point which the women especially wanted us men to hear. It was both thrilling and humbling to be under that great blue canopy.

Let us be clear that gender violence still occurs at startling rates in our own country, in our state, and in the communities where we live. There are parishes and ministries in the Diocese of Missouri who have devoted themselves to responding to this injustice, in the name of Jesus. We just need more of these responses.

Tonight after Evensong, Archbishop Rowan delivered his second presidential address to the Conference. He gave us a sobering assessment of our situation, and of the challenges facing us as the end of the Conference draws near. I hope that you read his address, and that you will note his daring to speak for the two sides across the divide in our Communion, as well as his asking each side for a gracious love as we make decisions. It is a clear and compelling diagnosis, I believe; the invitation into a "covenant of fate," described last night by Rabbi Sacks, may provide a template for finding a way forward, from the diagnosis offered.


Ann said...

Thanks for your report on today's session on violence and women.

Dan said...

Bishop Wayne,

I did read ++Rowan's address, and I am disappointed. I thought he gave fair voice to the concerns of the group he labeled traditional. But I did not think he gave fair expression to the group he labeled "innovators". We are not innovating, as I see it. For some of us, where we have arrived is exactly the result of diligent biblical study. Even just in terms of lines in the address, he devotes nearly twice as many lines to the concerns of the "traditional" group as he does to us "innovators". I wish the whole issue were as easy to dismiss as another example of Eurocentrism (or Amerocentrism, if that's a word), but it's not. For me, it goes to the core of the gospel.

John said...

Possibly the reason it seems Archbishop Rowan has been more deferential to the "traditionalists" is that the view "some kinds of behaviour and relationship are not blessed by God" is a rather delicate place to begin a Christian dialogue. What could this possibly mean but that some who find love in ways that others find objectionable must be denied God's blessing? It is one thing to withold one's own individual blessing, but to claim to have the right to withold God's blessing seems quite the opposite of pastoral. The "centre" about which the Archbishop speaks is Love. Who cannot step toward Love? That we all may struggle in our effort at giving and receiving love is a fact of human existence. The pastoral role, it seems, is to help one another find its purest expression. I heard a story about my grandson who wanted to express his love toward his new sister by "body slamming her wrestling style." His pastoral parent suggested that while this behavior might be well intended, it was not likely to be experienced by his sister as a loving gesture on his part. The parent suggested he find another means of expressing his love. The goal was not to condemn my grandson for his intention to convey love, but to help him to think about how his gesture might be received. Would it convey the message he intended? To judge his intended behavior or his relationship with his sister as "not blessed by God" would only have shamed him and thwarted his good intentions. Instead, he was encouraged to find a more pure expression than what he contemplated as a means of conveying his love - one that would be received as he intended it. The idea of comparing welcoming soldiers into the early church while asking them to lay down their arms to my grandson's effort to express his love to his sister seems to miss the mark. Is the objective of the warrior to convey love, or to annihilate what he judges to be "behavior not blessed by God"? Aren't we asking the warrior to lay down his weapon because he may have misjudged the behavior of his "enemy"? Aren't we asking the warrior to step toward Love? Isn't the pastoral role to try to see that love intended becomes love received? We are not, after all, in charge of policing practices that both convey and allow love to be received. Judgmentalism is one of those behaviors like my grandson body slamming his sister. It isn't likely to convey a loving message.